Search

Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Month

June 2016

Blog Tour- John Sweeney- Cold- Review

29057878

In the feeble light of a London winter, Joe Tiplady walks his dog in the snow. He is not alone. Two men are tracking him, as is a woman with wolf eyes. Soon Joe will find himself caught in a storm of violence and retribution that he does not yet understand.

Around the world, a chain of events is in motion that will make Joe a priceless target. A retired Soviet general hunts for his missing daughter after a series of brutal murders. A ruthless assassin loses something so precious he will do anything to get it back. And in the mountains of Utah, a brilliant ex-CIA chief wrestles with his religion.

In the shadow of them all lies Zoba, strongman ruler of Russia and puppet-master of the world’s darkest operatives. Can Joe save himself from this dangerous web of power and revenge? Where can he run when there’s nowhere left to hide?

So, eyes down and here we go on the first stop of the Cold blog tour. Welcome aboard to a striking new thriller from intrepid journalist John Sweeney, who neatly uses some of the less savoury characters he’s encountered in his professional career to populate his cast of baddies. That Zoba, for example really reminded me of…er…whatshisname…you know the short Russian guy. But joking aside, I really rather enjoyed this tangential and breathless caper…

Split into three main storylines, and globe trotting from America to Europe, Sweeney weaves a tale of greed, deception and violence, that affords ample opportunity on the part of the author to expose and explore some well known conflicts and acts of dissension by weaving them into the back stories of his main protagonists. This also builds a rapport with us as readers, as we recognise both the more obvious, and sometimes more secretive allusions, to familiar events in history, and the less well documented incidents of corruption within governments or security services, that Sweeney has obviously witnessed. Sweeney consistently puts his characters into the hands of shady forces operating outside of their jurisdiction, causing them, and us as readers, a great deal of chagrin. There is a good use of circumnavigation throughout, and Sweeney places his characters, and thereby drives the plot forward, in his judicious use of a number of locations.

To be fair, I’m not sure that all threads of the story worked completely in symmetry with one another, as some characters seemed forgotten about for prolonged stretches of the book, or there was a certain amount of unexplained serendipity that transported other characters from A to B in the plotline so seamlessly. However, the plot did, for the most part, trot along quite nicely, and I liked Sweeney’s control of pace, ramping up the tension at the optimum moments. Overall, I found the story of Gennady, the retired Soviet general, seeking the truth about his daughter’s death, the most absorbing of the strands, and was genuinely moved and fearful for the resolution of his story as his actions became more desperate. His story also afforded us an opportunity to see inside the socio-political life of Russia a little more which added further interest to his narrative.  I was also quite taken with the quiet stoicism of ex- CIA operative Ezekial ‘Zeke’ Chandler, questioning his Mormonism, and revealing himself as an astute and wily operator when his razor sharp intelligence is called upon to help other characters out of a jam. I was less convinced by the pseudo James Bond pairing of Joe Tiplady, a former terrorist, and the sultry Russian femme fatale Katya Koremedova on the run from one of her particularly nasty compatriots- cue cut-out Russian baddies- and found their story arc slightly less credible overall, with some elastic plotting to push their story onward, and a smattering of slightly clunky dialogue when they are forced into more intimate scenarios. There’s also a couple of thankfully brief, excruciating sex scenes,  with a couple of lines of which made me laugh out loud, (howling like a wolf anyone?) which was probably not the intention, and again the Bond motif loomed large, as 007 always manages to squeeze in a bit of saucy business too. But on the subject of humour there are also some perfectly placed moments of levity and acerbic wit which were genuinely funny, and I also liked the slightly cheesy poetry recitation in the midst of peril. All will become clear.

As I said at the beginning of my review, I did rather enjoy this, and anyone looking for a new thriller with interweaving strands, locations and incisive socio-political comment can not go far wrong with this one. I really quite liked the intermittent naivety of plotting and characterisation,  as there were some real edge of the seat moments packing a proper punch, yet tempered by some interludes of clear sighted consideration of social ills, and other weighty issues. All in all,  an enjoyable thriller.

 

Follow the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites:

cold blog tour banner

Thoughts and Books- A Weekend Round-Up- Emma Cline, Eric Rickstad, Colin Winnette

thVQ9YP5FDI’ll keep this bit brief, but what a thoroughly demoralising turn of events, with much disillusionment both on a personal level with some huge decisions to be made, and at the completely bizarre decision that somehow Britain will be better off out of the EU. As one of the 48% who voted to Remain, I greeted the announcement very early on Friday morning with a twin feeling of anger and sadness. I was incensed that this result was reached by ignorance, intolerance and misinformation, and that our country seems to be imploding politically with this result. I love the diversity of our country and the security, comradeship and strength provided by our relationship with our fellow Europeans, and the contribution that so many people make to our society. The Raven fears the worst, but remains staunchly European.

On to happier things, and although a little distracted, so this may read as a weird stream of consciousness, I will keep going in my personal mission to bring you some more great books. Despite my personal resolution to never again read a book with girl or girls in the title I’ve just read two, back-to-back…

methode_times_prod_web_bin_58260864-2e22-11e6-bb4a-bf8353b79a10Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Time to add my still small voice to the overriding praise that this book is currently attracting. I was absolutely blown away by the maturity and emotional pull of Cline’s writing throughout in her reworking of the Manson legend. Her sense of both the period and location is in evidence through every scene and the book sings with authenticity as to the feel of the 60’s era. The writing perfectly captures the cadence and rhythm of language, solidified by its very vital sense of place. We follow the teenage Evie deeper into the clutches of the cult following, and the moral and sexual questioning that arises from her interaction with this band of emotionally damaged and brainwashed women held in the thrall of a frankly despicable and manipulative individual. Cline’s depiction of the women and their very individual traits and back stories that have brought them to this point in their lives is by turns emotive, horrifying and full of pathos, so that your engagement as a reader is held throughout.

I was particularly enamoured with the character of Suzanne, who is instrumental in Evie’s further integration into the cult, and the sense of light and dark that Cline ascribes to her character. There is always a feeling of not quite knowing her true motivations , that Evie is entranced by, and which drives the reader on to try to get a handle on this obviously damaged but distinctly unknowable young woman, right up to the final conclusion. Evie herself is gauche, naïve and acts exactly as a teenager would, but makes the reader constantly root for her salvation, making the conclusion of the book tense and compelling. I read this book in pretty much one sitting, and am fairly sure that it will hold you in its grip in a similar way. You will also be thinking about it days afterwards. Highly recommended.

————————————————————————

51w3cIiHJpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Frank Rath thought he was done with murder when he turned in his detective’s badge to become a private investigator and raise a daughter alone. Then the police in his remote rural community of Canaan find an ’89 Monte Carlo abandoned by the side of the road, and the beautiful teenage girl who owned the car seems to have disappeared without a trace. Soon Rath’s investigation brings him face-to-face with the darkest abominations of the human soul. With the consequences of his violent and painful past plaguing him, and young women with secrets vanishing one by one, he discovers once again that even in the smallest towns on the map, evil lurks everywhere—and no one is safe…

Any book which name checks both Poe and Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies has to be an instant winner for the Raven, and this Vermont set thriller from Rickstad neatly does both in addition to simply being a great read.  I found this a slick, well- plotted and engrossing thriller from the outset, bolstered by the assured characterisation of the central protagonist, private investigator, Frank Rath, and his police associates, particularly the wonderfully feisty Sonja Test.  Rath was a great character, inevitably haunted by a dark episode in his past, leading to the adoption of his sister’s child to raise as his own, but who enshrines both a moral decency and tenacious doggedness tempered by moments of self-questioning and doubt particularly in the realm of human connection. His reactions and interactions as the case develops is central to the reader’s engagement with the story, and the seriousness of the case as it unfolds is tempered throughout by moments of dry humour and high emotion. Equally, Sonja is a terrific female protagonist, and her natural intelligence and ability to think outside the box, leads to the development of some clever turns in the investigation, providing a contrary stance to her own self-questioning of her personal life and responsibilities.

The plotting is tight throughout, throwing up enough twists and turns so that the resolution is neatly concealed right up to the book’s closing chapters, and, desperately avoiding plot spoilers,  provokes some interesting questions on an always contentious issue. A good read and recommended for that summer getaway.

—————————————————————

I’m going to keep these next two short and sweet, because if you’ve never encountered this unassuming chap…

colin

he’s written both of these …

colin1  coyote

and your lives will be infinitely richer for reading both.

Slim, quirky, description defying, dark, twisted, thought-provoking and pretty much every other complimentary adjective in my personal armour. Haint Stay is a Woodrell-esque Western that will shock, amuse and unsettle you in equal measure, with its violent interludes tempered by moments of extreme sadness and questioning of identity.

Coyote is constructed around the testimony of a mother in the wake of her child’s death. But, this is Winnette, and as he draws us in with an increasingly unreliable narrator you can be damn sure that nothing is as it seems.

And it isn’t.

Utterly chilling.

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones- Review

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaJerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins…

Entering the surreal and dark world  of Epiphany Jones is very much akin to being thrown out of an aeroplane and spiralling into a freefall with the initial euphoric feeling that, yes there is a rip cord,  but then being stricken by the fear that this rip cord may well malfunction. From the outset you will be repulsed, gripped, endlessly unsettled, and yet strangely moved, as you become more deeply enmeshed in the scatological and disturbing world of a certain Mr Jerry Dresden…

I will confess that on embarking reading this book there was an overwhelming sense of just what the hell is going on here, and who the hell is this crass, sexually gauche and downright weird individual that I am meant to be engaging with? But, I promise you wholeheartedly, that as much as your teeth are set on edge by the sheer social awkwardness and sexual ineptitude of Dresden, it is a testament to the bravery and cleverness of Grothaus’ writing that every preconception you initially hold will be fundamentally challenged as the story progresses. It’s a risky strategy, but what is life without a little bit of risk taking, and producing writing that genuinely challenges and stretches your reader? Such is the case with Grothaus’ unique approach in the characterisation of both Dresden, and the manipulative and deeply emotionally scarred Epiphany Jones, who crashes in to Dresden’s small world with the power of a heat seeking missile. Grappling with his own psychotic delusions, Dresden is inveigled in a world of blackmail, violence and exploitation that proves as much as an epiphany to his own sense of self, as the fractured and dangerous world of Epiphany threatens to destroy them both. At one point Dresden comments that he feels ‘like a figment, of a figment, of a figment’ as the unreliability of formative memories and the blurring of truth and lies, the real and the unreal are consistently explored both in his character and that of Epihany herself.  As the powerfully emotive details of Epiphany’s manipulation and abuse, within the world of sex trafficking come to the fore, there is a reshaping and shifting of Dresden’s character that is joyous to behold. When these two characters are not directly interacting with each other there is a palpable lull in the tension of the book, that Grothaus ramps up when their paths cross again setting up a compelling ebb and flow to the rhythm of their relationship, and giving a real vitality to the characterisation throughout, superbly manipulating and toying with the readers’ emotional responses to both.

I think it’s worth reiterating here that if you want to get a real  handle on the dark social and political recesses of any society, that crime fiction is the most reliable narrative form to accomplish this, and this book demonstrates this beautifully. Not only does this book present us with a stark, and painfully truthful, depiction of the nefarious world of sex trafficking, made all the more powerful by the reportage style of Epiphany’s testament, but also challenges and plays with the reader’s sensibilities, and view of the world consistently. So along the way you will also encounter God, cybersex, the overblown world of celebrity, social alienation, and psychotic disturbance, in a sharp, acerbic style and at times underscored with a humour of the blackest black, and top notch satirical observation, which was hugely appreciated by this reader.

Epiphany Jones is a real seat of the pants read, and utterly uncompromising. It’s graphic, visceral, mordantly funny, thought provoking and at times profoundly moving. It’s not for all, but it was certainly all for this one. I absolutely loved it, and big kudos from the Raven for Mr  Grothaus for such clever, risk-taking and challenging fiction writing. Highly recommended.

orenda-logo-5

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites

unspecified1

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die – Review

gunnarGunnar Staalesen is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be involved in this blog tour, marking the release of the latest in his Varg Veum series, Where Roses Never Die

September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge…

Averse as I am to gushing, with some authors it’s difficult to remain completely objective when you have genuinely loved every single book that they have ever produced. Such is my problem- but a nice problem- with the venerable Mr Staalesen, and Where Roses Never Die, which merely compounds my adoration of this series to date.

As there is a deliciously dark twist in this book, I will not tarry long on the plot, but needless to say Staalesen once again employs his tactic of making the reader believe that what they are witnessing is a fairly simple investigation, in this case possible child abduction/murder and a jewellery store robbery. But nothing so straightforward my friends. Staalesen has a wonderful way of calmly exposing a very nasty underbelly to Veum’s investigation that will both unsettle and disturb you, all through a measured unfolding of Veum’s probing discoveries, and the exposure of his protagonist’s true nature and motivations. As you think that the investigation is going steadily in one direction, a follow up interview or a loose casual remark uncovers another dark thread for Veum to follow, and the innocent are not always as innocent as we believe. Staalesen’s plotting is consistently faultless and this book proves no exception. Question everything you think you know, and don’t be fooled, there are some rum characters in this one.

Staalesen is incredibly good at exposing the kinks in the psychological make-up and behaviour throughout his characterisation, from his dogged and haunted PI Veum , through the layers of deceit and misdirection that the surrounding cast of characters exhibit as he searches for truth and resolution. Veum is such a non-linear, unpredictable character and cleverly, the familiarity we think we have with him as readers is effectively warped in each book, as Staalesen seems to re-assess and redraw him slightly in each investigation, exposing different facets of the man both personally and professionally. The natural cynical humour, and determination to unsettle and irritate some of those he encounters remains a constant though, and I love the way that Staalesen extends this feature of Veum’s character to poke affectionate fun at the locale of Bergen and its inhabitants too. On a more serious note though, it is good to see Veum starting to recover from a significant loss in his life, and making a few tentative steps back to the realm of personal relationships, leaving the door open a gap for this emotional recovery to continue in the next book.

Once again, Staalesen has produced another impeccable slice of Nordic noir, that places him at the forefront of the Scandinavian crime writing community. With immaculate and controlled plotting, which throws up a number of dark surprises along the way to nicely unsettle the reader, and the engaging figure of Varg Veum at its centre, Where Roses Never Die is a more than satisfying addition to this excellent series. Highly recommended.

orenda-logo-5

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites

Roses Never Die Blog tour- use this one

Summer Thrills- Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost, Jack Grimwood- Moskva, A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

It is this time of year when peoples’ thoughts turn to summer holidays, and as a bookseller I begin to receive the inevitable requests for the best books to take to while away the time on the plane, on the beach, in a soggy tent, tramping through the forests of Borneo…

So with this in mind here are some recent reads that more than deserve a bit of that precious hand luggage space.

chris

CHRIS EWAN: LONG TIME LOST

Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name. But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.

Having quickly established himself as one of my particular favourites Ewan brings us, Long Time Lost, which takes us on a chilling adventure throughout Britain and Europe, focusing on the work of a small team on a personal mission to protect individuals under witness protection. From its suspenseful opening to a beautifully weighted unfolding of a dark and dangerous tale, this book totally justifies the label of ‘unputdownable’. What struck me as I was reading was the sheer cleverness of plotting that Ewan demonstrates throughout, fortified by a band of characters that range from emotionally damaged, to quirky, to downright dastardly. The two main protagonists of Nick and Kate are incredibly appealing, and with both having more layers than a proverbial onion, Ewan slowly draws back the curtain on the tumultuous events in their lives that have shaped Nick’s role as a protector, and how Kate’s character evolves as she finds herself increasingly under threat as a valuable witness. Ewan uses feints and red herrings to great effect, wrong footing our perceptions of certain characters as the story progresses. By slickly moving from country to country there is a wonderful momentum and sense of movement so just as you adjust yourself to the mortal danger our protagonists face, you are speedily transported to another setting where more tension awaits you. This also makes it incredibly difficult to know when to stop reading, as there is a real sense of you wanting to see what’s around the next corner. It’s thrilling, unpredictable and engrossing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

moskva

JACK GRIMWOOD: MOSKVA

Red Square, 1985. The naked body of a young man is left outside the walls of the Kremlin; frozen solid – like marble to the touch – missing the little finger from his right hand.

A week later, Alex Marston, the headstrong fifteen year old daughter of the British Ambassador disappears. Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox, posted to Moscow to keep him from telling the truth to a government committee, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption. But Russia is reluctant to give up the worst of her secrets. As Fox’s investigation sees him dragged deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own so his fears grow, with those of the girl’s father, for Alex’s safety. And if Fox can’t find her soon, she looks likely to become the next victim of a sadistic killer whose story is bound tight to that of his country’s terrible past …

It’s a brave writer indeed who pitches up with an idea for a thriller set in 1980’s Moscow, as we all know and love Gorky Park, and many have failed in its wake. But good news crime buddies, Grimwood has cracked it with the atmospheric and claustrophobic Moskva. With impeccable plotting, research and narrative tension, Grimwood has produced one of the best Soviet set thrillers I have read. Drawing on, and using to great effect, all the inherent and documented fear and suspicion so redolent of Soviet life within this period, Grimwood has crafted a supremely intelligent serial killer thriller, with a depth of characterisation that will draw in admirers of other exponents of this subgenre. As the depth of  conspiracy and concealment begins to reveal itself, frustrating Fox’s investigation of Alex’s disappearance, there is a crackling tension to the book throughout, compounded by Grimwood’s unflinching analysis of the weaknesses and dangers of the Soviet state that so consistently thwart Fox, giving him a slippery grasp on truth amongst the smoke and mirrors emanating from the echelons of power in Moscow. I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling your reading of this one, but you must seek this one out. It’s a terrific read, and Grimwood demonstrates again his real flexibility as a writer. Add to your wish list now.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

9780593076644

A. A. DHAND: STREETS OF DARKNESS

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body. Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away. Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

Streets of Darkness is to my knowledge the first crime book set in Bradford that I have encountered, and with only having visited the city a couple of times, my curiosity was instantly aroused with the mouthwatering prospect of unexplored crime territory. Unlike other British police procedural writers, Dhand paints an entirely bleak and unflinching portrait of this city, without the little moments of affection that normally punctuate other writers’ portrayals of their home towns. The image that Dhand portrays of his city is unrelentingly grim and depressing, and there is a downtrodden air amongst its inhabitants that hammers home the true picture of inner city deprivation and neglect that this city has suffered. Even allowing for the rare moments of happiness that Virdee experiences on the cusp of the birth of his first child, his character, with all his personal torments and professional frustrations, is a perfect mirror of Bradford itself. Dhand also highlights the long standing religious intolerance experienced by those marrying outside of their religion- Virdee is a Sikh, but is married to Saima, a Muslim- and I very much enjoyed Dhand’s exploration of the role of religion in their marriage and personal beliefs. Indeed, the attendant problems of faith loom large for Virdee throughout, both personally and professionally, as he becomes embroiled in a violent and dangerous investigation, that soon threatens all he holds dear, against a backdrop of a city thrown into a state of social unrest. Virdee is a traditional maverick, and goes out on a limb in the course of the book, despite operating whilst suspended as a police officer. Despite his downtrodden and naturally pessimistic air I did quite take to him as a character,  but was a little unconvinced by the slightly schmaltzy feel when Dhand turned his attentions to Virdee’s home life.  There was also an annoyingly predictable plot device linked to this that did make me punch the air in frustration as it wasn’t needed, and rather undid the fact that this was a very well-plotted and compelling depiction of inner city strife and burgeoning violence up to that point. However, that niggle aside I would still strongly recommend this debut. Grim, violent and a welcome addition to the British crime writing scene.

(With thanks to Bantam Press for the ARC)

 

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

dalyA serial killer seems to be roving Glasgow, targeting a range of victims from an elderly gypsy to a young female accountant and a heroin-addicted mercenary. In each case, the left hand is hacked off and sent to DCI Charlie Anderson, along with a playing card. It’s a high-profile case, made tougher by media involvement, pressure from the top brass, tensions on the team. But when Anderson’s own family is targeted by the killer, career concerns go out of the window. Now it’s life and death…

And so to Cutting Edge,  the third book by Bill Daly, featuring curmudgeonly and delightfully old-fashioned police officer DCI Charlie Anderson. Having previously reviewed both Black Mail and Double Mortice, it is with a welcome degree of familiarity that I embarked on this newest in the series, and this series is probably as close to the mainstream British police procedural that Raven consistently wanders to. I’ll tell you why…

Having been quickly disillusioned, and quite frankly bored by, by the never ending bog standard police procedural series that some writers are known for, it was good to discover someone new. With echoes of John Harvey, the real lynchpin of this series to date is the central character of the curmudgeonly DCI Anderson. He’s a real old school copper who has no truck with technology- his computer is never switched on and he gets someone to print out his emails and handwrites his replies to them- and relies on good old fashioned copper’s instinct to get a result. Although he has the world weary air of a man on the brink of retirement, and appreciates he is a bit of a dinosaur, the working relationship between himself and two of his younger officers is used to good effect, as he appreciates their newer style of investigation, and they, his straightforward and instinctive policing.

The book is infused with a dry Glaswegian humour, and by bringing in a fast track Southern officer to the team there is a wealth of opportunity for gentle teasing and joshing, which lightens the very serious investigation they embark on. Anderson also begins to show a grudging respect for the world of psychological profiling through the intervention of no-nonsense profiler Dr Orr, who has the measure of him, and archly deals with his scepticism. Through his characterisation, Daly neatly depicts the ever changing and constantly evolving world of policing, offsetting the wealth of experience on Anderson’s part, set against the changing investigative techniques he is coming to terms with, and this works very well throughout the book.

I thought this was a well-planned and executed storyline, with an intuitive use of pace as Anderson himself experiences the unwelcome attention of the serial killer, and the tension that arises from this by encroaching on his personal life. Like my fellow crime readers, I enjoy trying to second-guess the author and play along with the investigation, and was delighted by the fact that Daly managed to conceal the killer and their motivation so well by using a disparate collection of victims, and wrong-footing both his protagonists and readers along the way. By using a combination of ‘normal’ and ‘criminal’ victims there was a real sense of where would this killer strike next, and why was Anderson so central to the killer’s thinking.

Having read a substantial number of ultimately disappointing long-running police procedural series, that have grown increasingly stale, I would urge you to seek out this series. Anderson is a truly engaging character, and the books are well-plotted with an affectionate but not completely rose-tinted view of Glasgow itself. Recommended.

(With thanks to Old St Publishing for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

suzi

When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour. As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run – but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away? 

As a terrified Marie is pulled back into a violent past she thought she’d escaped, she makes an irrevocable decision. And when events come to a head at a house party on Willow Walk, can Gray piece together the puzzle in time to stop the sleepy town of Banktoun being rocked by tragedy once more?

Having opened her series with Black Wood the first of the Banktoun trilogy, SJI Holliday transports us back to this seemingly ordinary town in Willow Walk, where dark deeds and murder are afoot. In a delicious mash up of Twin Peaks meets Take The High Road, Holliday once again traps us in the claustrophobic confines of this small town, and draws us into the lives of its singularly twisted inhabitants…

Opening with what is probably the creepiest prologue I have encountered for some time, Willow Walk quickly establishes a chilling air that draws the reader in instantaneously. What Holliday balances so beautifully is the very ordinariness of this small Scottish town, with the extraordinary dark secrets and emotional tribulations that exist within the lives of its inhabitants. Consequently, she can draw in characters to a greater or lesser degree as the story unfolds, and how the events impact on the wider community. Indeed, with a flourish of authorial brilliance, Holliday has used a character that made only a fleeting appearance in the first book as one of the main characters in this one. Her characterisation is consistently superb, and shows great skill in playing with the sympathies of the reader throughout. Like Black Wood, there is a curious mix of likeable and dislikeable characters, and there’s a wonderful sense of a grey area in their motivations and desires, demonstrating how far ‘ordinary’ people can have their own morality tested by the bad situations they find themselves in.

The stalwart figure of Sergeant Davie Gray is at the epicentre of the book, ruefully observing the downsizing of his police team, and grappling with affairs of the heart in his fledgling relationship with the secretive, and obviously, emotionally damaged Marie. With an escaped mental patient on the run, of which Marie knows more than she’s telling, and the nefarious activities taking place when a travelling fair pitches up in Banktoun, Gray certainly has his work cut out in this one, but manages to retain the air of decency and professionalism that defines his character so markedly. He’s a safe pair of hands as the evils of the outside world begin to encroach on the community that he works tirelessly to protect.

The characterisation of Marie was terrific, and desperate to avoid spoilers as usual, this is a woman who undergoes the brunt of the darkness that lies within the book. I loved the way that her character veers from moments of emotional tenacity, to the depths of despair and fear, and it’s fair to say that Holliday really puts her through an emotional wringer. As we, as readers, begin to realise the weight of emotional turmoil that her former years placed her under, through the clever use of correspondence from a damaging figure in her past, her story is utterly enthralling, as is how she can possibly extricate herself again from a position of extreme danger and threat. Throughout the book, Holliday uses the other characters in a cameo form, to unveil a tale of teenage angst and the dangers of legal highs, so topical in Britain at the moment, and the protagonists ebb and flow in the book as a whole, but not to the detriment of the main narrative. It will be interesting to see which of the minor players will come to the fore in the next book, as even in a fleeting mention there are people within this book that I really want to know more about.

Once again, Holliday has weaved a tenebrous tale which is no ordinary tale of small town folk. As the extent of the depravity that Marie has experienced in her early life comes to the surface, the book attains an air of claustrophobic, psychological darkness that is both disturbing and voyeuristically intriguing, and which ultimately just keeps you reading. The extraordinary nature of Marie’s experiences work harmoniously with the very ordinary preoccupations of some of the town’s other inhabitants, and it is this balance of plot, and sterling characterisation, that makes Willow Walk such a deliciously dark and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

Up ↑